Access to Justice Award winners to be honored

Issue May 2012 By Bill Archambeault, Andrea Burke, Tricia M. Oliver and Jennifer Rosinski

The Massachusetts Bar Association's Access to Justice Awards will honor four attorneys and one law firm, recognizing their the exemplary legal services delivery, at its 2012 Annual Dinner at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel on Thursday, May 31.

The event will also feature keynote speaker Victoria Reggie Kennedy and the presentation of the Legislator of the Year Award to House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (see p. 1 for more information).


Dulcinea (Duci) Goncalves

As soon as Dulcinea (Duci) Goncalves could practice, she went straight to where she needed to be: representing indigent juveniles in the criminal justice system. Now, turning 32 this month, she's the attorney in charge of the Quincy Youth Advocacy Department (YAD) of the Committee of Public Counsel Services (CPCS).

"Growing up, people often told me they thought I should be a lawyer," but she never considered it until she interned at the Children's Law Center as a Boston University undergraduate. It changed her perception about lawyers and the roles they can play in communities like hers.

At Northeastern University School of Law, she interned at CPCS, then joined the Roxbury YAD as a staff attorney in 2005.

"CPCS is a holistic experience. You do criminal defense, but you also address problems in the community. I can do an excellent job on someone's legal case, but if they're going home and having trouble in school, they're likely to end up back in court. Working for an organization that values that is really critical."

At the Quincy YAD, she supervises three attorneys and support staff and carries 15 to 20 cases at a time. She also helps newer attorneys with their cases, including offering advice and support during their first court appearances.
She's learned that a successful outcome isn't wholly dependent on how she fares in court.

"There are definitely times where it doesn't work out the way I want it to, but I've learned to measure success in different ways. If a client starts going back to school, that's a success. Hopefully, you will have an impact on their future as an adult."

In one case, she helped one former client get probation instead of prison. "Sometimes it's hard to see where we've been successful, but had she gone to state prison for five years … Now she's got a job and is pursuing higher education."

That Goncalves is a woman of color who speaks Portuguese and Cape Verdean-Creole also helps inspire the youth she represents.

"It was really important to me, helping the folks I grew up around. I wanted them to have a different experience. It makes a difference, being able to communicate with them. They see that someone who looks like me and sounds like me can achieve things. That means a lot to the kids."


Linda C. Hickman

Linda C. Hickman grew up with a strong sense of fairness and decided to attend law school after realizing the potential a lawyer has to help people.

"I thought of law as something you could use, sort of a tool to further justice," she said.

After graduating from Northeastern University Law School, Hickman delayed her legal career to raise three children. When she and her family moved to Boston, Hickman decided to volunteer before deciding whether she would commit to a legal career.

In 2005, Hickman contacted Neighborhood Legal Services and interviewed with Director John Ford. She began volunteering with the Elder Law Project, one of four units at the organization.

"It was really great work … it was just my good fortune to have him [John Ford] as a mentor. He really taught me how to be a lawyer," she said.

Although Hickman originally signed on for a six-month commitment, she continued to volunteer at Neighborhood Legal Services.

"I was reluctant to bail out when the need was so great … the work just has a way of grabbing you," she said. "I remember when I first started, I would sit in on interviews with John and I was so affected by people's interviews, their stories, their lives."

Over the years, Hickman has worked in the Elder Law Unit on many complex cases and has been instrumental in providing legal services to those who might not otherwise have access. "There are so many elderly people that are poor and need lawyers," she said.

After seven years, Hickman has decided to pursue a different career, but she has only fondness for her time spent with the organization. "If I were going to spend seven years of my life being a lawyer, it was my good fortune to spend those years with Neighborhood Legal Services," she said.

Hickman, who describes herself as a "low-profile" person, expressed shock at being chosen for the Pro Bono Publico Award. "I'm really surprised … it is something I will treasure," she said.


Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten LLP, Boston

The 13-attorney firm Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten LLP in Boston is being honored for its work representing domestic violence clients in collaboration with the Middlesex District Attorney's Office. Brody, Hardoon is one of only six law firms involved in this unique pro bono collaboration that represents high-risk, complex domestic violence cases.

The pro bono working relationship between Brody, Hardoon and the DA's office is due in large part to partner Laurence Hardoon, who previously served for more than 14 years in the Middlesex DA's office and began the Middlesex Child Abuse Unit there.

Hardoon explained that he "was already quite biased and sympathetic" to the domestic partners in these cases. He describes the pro bono efforts of this firm to be a "win-win." "First and foremost, we are helping people in very vulnerable situation," he said, but in addition to helping the DA's office, the firm is also adding to its attorneys' range of experience.

Firm attorney Thomas Donahue explained that the cases are complicated. "The most valuable measure we are able to attain for our highly vulnerable clients is emergency support," he said.

Donahue has found this important work highly satisfying, since he has been able to help domestic violence clients keep their kids and their house, and the ability to pay their bills -- all elements that abusers typically hold over their heads and impede them from leaving the abuser in the first place, according to Donahue. He has found it particularly rewarding to serve as an individual's advocate in one of the worst times in their lives. "Most of my clients are not used to being able to 'stand up' to their abusers."

Colleague Gregor Pagnini concurs. "It is really a great feeling to bring that relief for clients, to take that stress off their shoulders." As with Donahue, these cases fall outside of Pagnini's typical case portfolio, but he finds them professionally and personally beneficial. "To know that my client's life is immediately changed for the better because of our counsel has been the most rewarding."

Attorney Kristin Harris finds the clients she's assisted to be very appreciative. "One on one, face-to-face, I could see how I was making a difference in their lives." Harris has represented a woman who was abused by a man she was dating, a woman who was being abused by an ex-spouse and a woman with a young child who was being abused by her husband.

Hardoon said the pro bono effort has been embraced by everyone at the firm, not just the attorneys, noting that Administrative Assistant Nicole Romano's coordination has been particularly key to its success.


Thomas Mela

After more than 40 years in the profession, Massachusetts Advocates for Children Managing Attorney and Senior Project Director Thomas Mela is still passionate. His longstanding career in public services is highlighted by his work serving the underrepresented.

"I went to law school in the '60s knowing that I wanted to be able to secure the tools to represent and improve the standing of low-income persons," said Mela, who worked first in employment discrimination law after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1968.

"I'm at an age where I could've retired years ago, but I have no interest, because the work I do is so satisfying."
Mela began his legal career advocating for minorities trying to achieve entry-level positions as police and firefighters in Massachusetts. Seeing an increase in the number of minorities who acquire those positions over the years has been one of his proudest achievements.

More recently, Mela has worked to represent low-income children and children with disabilities. "I moved from the rights of adults to the rights of children -- especially children with disabilities," he said.

At Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Mela facilitates the interests and efforts of legal services and public interest attorneys from around the state who wish to promote the rights of low-income children.

This past year, Mela advocated for House Bill 178, legislation that would reform school discipline laws in the state. He expressed appreciation to those who have supported the bill.

"The MBA deserves our thanks for specifically voting to endorse the bill and for appointing a representative, Peter Hahn … we are very grateful to them for that," Mela said.

He also underscored the need for those in the legal profession to take on pro bono work. "We need to refer our cases to others and we very much appreciate the fact that there are some others … but the need far exceeds available pro bono resources."


Michael A. Fabbri

The gratifying work is what has kept Michael A. Fabbri a prosecutor for the past 26 years. Despite the challenges and stress that come with a job responsible for proving a defendant's criminal guilt, Fabbri finds immense joy in his work.

"Even on a bad day, it's a great profession," said Fabbri, who called the honor humbling.

Fabbri has spent 24 of his 26 years as a prosecutor with the Middlesex District Attorney's Office, where he is currently chief trial counsel. He has also held the positions of chief of homicide, chief of the Special Investigations Unit, deputy chief of the Appeals and Training Bureau and Framingham regional supervisor. He spent two years in the Attorney General's Office, working in the Special Investigations Unit and as deputy chief of the Medicaid Fraud Division.

The most challenging time of Fabbri's career was prosecuting the highly publicized murder trial of Neil Entwistle, the British man convicted in June 2008 of murdering his 27-year-old wife, Rachel, and 9-month-old daughter, Lillian Rose, in their Hopkinton home two years earlier.

"It was one of the first cases I've had that was really under the spotlight. It was a case that seemed like the whole planet was looking at," Fabbri said. "I didn't know if I was going to be able to take the pressure."

The case was also logistically challenging, with witnesses spanning the globe, and a multitude of forensics details.
His most rewarding case took Fabbri by surprise many years ago. The defendant, plagued by substance abuse, pled guilty to a series of house break-ins in the Framingham area. "At the end, he and his lawyer thanked me," Fabbri said. "It worked out for everybody."

Fabbri decided to join the legal profession while working as an Air Force electromechanical technician on Minuteman missiles in Missouri. He earned degrees from Framingham State College and Northeastern University School
of Law.